At this point, we’re all painfully aware of the adage “you are what you eat.” If we want to stay in shape, the diet we feed ourselves is just as important as our exercise routine. None of this is really up for debate. We accept that it’s true, and anyone who says anything else is spreading “fake news.” But did you know that your diet is just as crucial to your mental health as it is to your physical well-being? It’s true. If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, chances are there’s something in your diet that’s making it happen. We will look at how food affects your mood in this post.
How Does Food Affect Mental Health?
In case you missed it, the world has gotten pretty stressful over the last two years. Because of that, many Americans have turned to one thing to comfort them: food. Comfort foods like pizza, hamburgers, and candy are how many people cope with the genuine stress of their everyday lives.
Sometimes, eating these kinds of foods can help us find solace in bad feelings. But in the long term, you may actually be doing more harm than good. According to some data, foods that are high in sugar and fats can actually become triggers for depression. Just remember, garbage in, garbage out – including your feelings.
Data Connecting Sugar Intake with Depression
One study took a look at more than 23,000 people to assess their diets and moods. They discovered that men who had the highest rate of sugar intake were 23% more likely to experience depression over a 5-year span. Numbers for women were similar. Interestingly enough, the data from the study suggested that while sugar intake was linked to higher rates of depression, depression itself didn’t actually have any effect on sugar intake. It was all a one-way connection.
This is a huge deal, especially for Americans. The study noted that Americans consume three times more sugar than the worldwide average. Not surprisingly, the study also noted that experts predict depression will become the number one cause of disability by 2030. Long story short, it’s time to do something about this.
How Does Diet Affect Depression?
For a long time, the scientific community didn’t put much stock into the connection between diet and mental health. But that’s changing in recent years as the field of nutritional psychology develops into a full-fledged science.
It all starts with something called your microbiome. This term refers to the entire ecosystem of microbes that live inside your body. Many of these microbes help create neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
These neurotransmitters have a huge impact on your mood. That’s why many researchers refer to them as “happy chemicals.” Diet isn’t the only thing that affects these neurotransmitters. Exercise and other activities also play a huge role in triggering them.
Suppose you keep feeding your microbiome foods that don’t allow it to produce the right neurotransmitters. In that case, it’s going to directly affect your mood. And while making significant changes to your diet may not be easy, it’s definitely something to consider if you’re feeling depressed (and have been for a while).
Eat These Foods to Improve Your Mental Health
Okay, so we’ve established the connection between food and mood. But what foods exactly can we eat to boost our mood and keep us feeling happy?
Good question. Here are some recommendations to lend a hand to your microbiome and improve your overall mental state.
People have been touting the positive effects of antioxidants for decades. And in the case of food and mood, antioxidants definitely play a huge role. They cut down on molecules known as free radicals in the body, which can cause cell damage. This damage, known as “oxidative stress,” can lead to anxiety and depression. You can find antioxidants in fresh fruits and veggies, berries, and dark chocolate. Vitamins A, C, and E are all powerful antioxidant agents, so pack your diet with foods that contain these.
Here’s one of the most essential nutrients for your nervous system. And keeping your nervous system (including your brain) in good shape is a great way to combat depression. You can find Vitamin B in eggs, meat, poultry, fish, leafy veggies, nuts, beans, fruit, whole grains, and dairy products.
Research has shown that Vitamin D has a huge role to play in mental well-being. And while humans get most of their Vitamin D from sun exposure, some foods deliver it too. If you think you’re not getting enough Vitamin D, stick with eggs, beef liver, oily fish, and fortified dairy products.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The relationship between Omega-3 Fatty Acids and depression is complex. These nutrients have some neuroprotective properties, which scientists believe help stabilize mood. Many fish, like sardines, mackerel, salmon, and tuna, are full of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and nuts and seeds like flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts.
Here’s one of the most important minerals you’ve never heard of. You can find selenium in the dirt, but don’t go around licking the ground just yet. It’s also present in water and some foods. You can find selenium in whole grains, certain types of seafood, Brazil nuts, and the meat of organs like the liver.
Foods to Avoid to Boost Mental Health
Now that we’ve covered what kind of foods you want to include in your diet, it’s time for something a little less fun. Here are some of the foods you want to eliminate from your diet to combat depression.
Yes, I know that White Claw just released a new Passion Fruit flavor. And I know you think that’s going to make you happy. But it’s not – and there’s science to back that up. Although many people use alcohol to self-medicate for depression, it can actually be a depression trigger. Stick to the occasional night of drinking to celebrate life, not run from it.
If you only take one single thing away from this post, it should be to eliminate sugar from your diet. Sugar is more addictive than cocaine, and it’s also a known inflammation trigger. We know that inflammation plays a role in depression, making sugar one of the most dangerous things for our mental health.
We mentioned earlier how some types of meats are packed with tons of helpful nutrients to help boost your mood. But that doesn’t include processed meats like ham or bacon. Avoid these since they, like sugar, can trigger inflammation and spiral into depression.
Following these tips can be your first step toward fighting back against depression. But it won’t be easy. Changing your diet can definitely trigger plenty of anxiety and stress. Luckily, you don’t have to go through this alone. Some research has shown that CBD can be a powerful aid in combating anxiety. To find the right CBD product to help you change your diet, check out our full selection of products.